From Lemons to Lemonade

So I picked myself up and re-evaluated my situation without comparing it to anything or anyone else because comparing doesn’t help you see the whole picture of the subject. 

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You may remember reading this from my last post, “Only a portion of our school has been approved by the powers that be, so we will all be uncomfortable for a little while longer as we will be squished in.” Well, still only a portion of our new school is usable so the uncomfortability still exist with no clear end in sight. My classroom is still not ‘my’ or ‘mine and my students’ classroom as it is still being shared by all others subjects. This is a headache because I am OCD about certain aspects of my classroom and everyone else is not, so others don’t hold the same high cleanliness or organization expectations as me. And even though we all use the space, I am the homeroom teacher and the classroom environment lands on me. Sharing a classroom is annoying as hell.

The class sizes have increased this year as they work to fill the school and of course that means primary classes have more students than any other grades. P.E. and Music are my students only specials this year, versus last year when they had 4 specials including IT and Art, versus the year before when they also had library. So who do you think is responsible for these things now? My contact hours have increased drastically partly due to not filling these positions after the staff made a mad exodus at the end of last school year and the year before and partly because of people complaining about not having enough teaching time. Now I teach no less than 3 whole class periods a day and have 3 other duties including arrival, soft start, and dismissal. On the last day of the week, I have contact for 5 straight hours, which is way too much for me let along 6 year olds, on top of dismissal duty. This includes: arrival, soft start, 4 straight periods of teaching, lunch, finally a break then dismissal. This may seem like a typical teaching day in America, my past, but I’ll admit, I got spoiled here. In the past I only had to teach whole class 1 hour a day and 2 small groups for 2 additional hours with arrival and dismissal duty and the occasional lunch duty. Sadly, the grand ole days when the work was so easy and light are gone.

Prices here continue to rise. The prices of flights are ridiculous making it hard to travel reasonably or to have visitors. My sons want to come visit during the winter break but it’s just not affordable. I really wish the blockade would end. Qatar is making strides toward self-sufficiency but things have definitely changed and there’s been no news lately of any end in sight.

Two weeks ago I was not in a good space. My new motto: Ride the waves, don’t make them, was not going well. I was in a very negative mood and I didn’t like it. I wanted to throw in the towel but then I remembered I have goals to achieve and I can’t throw in the towel yet.

Lemonade

This was a very low point for me and I could not stay there. So I picked myself up and re-evaluated my situation without comparing it to anything or anyone else because comparing doesn’t help you see the whole picture.

I really like my students this year, so far. Some of them are really low, which means I will see so much progress. Only a few have shown me behavior problems and the behaviors are minor ones. The students seem eager to learn. The working environment is not the best so when I’m there, I don’t think of work, I focus on teaching and that’s something I love doing. So instead of saying, I’m going to work I say, I’m going to teach! This mindset shift makes the work day enjoyable.

At the end of those low two weeks, a friend of mine hosted a vision board party. I didn’t know much about what a vision board was until another friend filled me in and I did some research. I decided to go to this party and I was so glad I did. Oh, let me tell you what a vision board is in case you were like me and don’t know. Huffingtonpost.com defines a vision board as a sacred space that displays what you want and how you want to feel. Click here to read more about it. Here is a picture of mine…

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It isn’t finished but it is a work in process. I left space for me to continue to think and add more. I can’t tell you how empowering it felt to be around other women with goals and were making the first steps to putting their plans into place, women who were really thinking about being better and doing better and how fortunate I felt when so many women were looking for what I already have, a good husband and a house. The energy and the vibe in that room started my upward spiral.

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I have decided to make this year all about SELF-CARE! I joined a gym and have a personal trainer. I have surrounded myself with inspirational, uplifting and encouraging quotes. I have scheduled a full body massage once a month. My trip to Thailand to a wellness and detox retreat is paid in full and less than 4 weeks away. I smile because it makes others smile back, it’s easier than explaining what’s bothering me to people who may or may not have a genuine interest and because smiling feels good. I dry brush, exfoliate and surround myself with my favorite aromatherapies. I vent and then I let it go or I try to turn the negatives into positives. I’ve learned that I have some personal things to work on. For example: I tend to be judgmental of others but honestly, if they are happy, what business is it of mine. So, I’ve decided to work on Kennesha. I’m choosing to be happy because it’s a state of mind and because I am truly grateful for all I have.

If I didn’t have some goals laid out that I’m intent on achieving, I would leave this place and go where the wind blows next. For now, the wind stands still and so do I. But while I’m here, I plan on becoming a better person, setting goals, staying quiet about them, crushing the shit out of them and clapping for my damn self. And in the meantime, I choose to be happy because it’s good for my health.

I’d love to hear from you…

If you’ve taught overseas: Did you ever have a low point, and if so what was it and how did you overcome it?

For all my readers: What do you do for self-care?

The Start of Year 3- Teaching Abroad

I’m back and this is how I greeted my honey!!

It was my first time flying 12.5 hours straight alone, but I arrived safely back in Qatar on August 1, giving myself enough time to readjust to the time change, and dry weather and to spend some much needed quality time with honey before I start back to work on August 12.  I also need time to adjust to my new accommodation.  Over the summer, Honey moved us again.  This time to a even smaller apartment near the beach, closer to school and a whole lot cheaper.

This is the start of year 3 of my journey of teaching overseas and year 8 in the classroom.  Last year was rough at work so I came up with a motto for this year: Don’t make waves, ride them!  My team and I agreed to start anew which is great and one member in particular even apologized for their behavior last year.  This is a great way to start the year.  Honestly though, I just want to teach and be left alone and that’s why I turned down the opportunity to be Grade Team Lead again.  Let the newbies do it.  Been there done that, I’m good.  With a new school year comes new teachers and new challenges.

This year we are starting at our brand new school and with that comes it’s own set of obstacles.  Administration set the tone for the school year telling us all to be flexible.  Since our school is still not completely ready to welcome students, their start date got pushed back a week so far.

This is what the staff meeting looked like after the announcement.  Of course, we teachers still must go but that’s fine.  Only a portion of our school has been approved by the powers that be, so we will all be uncomfortable for a little while longer as we will be squished in.  I think all of the adjustments that we will go through will make the school year go faster, I’m hoping.

I’m optimistic about this New School Year!

 

 

Peru, Beyond Machu Picchu

Red roofs atop cement, adobe or brick homes, cobblestone streets, sprawling green and brown mountains split by sacred rivers, Inca ruins in multitudes, tanned hard working people, minty aroma from eucalyptus trees, salt mines, rocky roads, colorful handcrafted textiles, this is Peru, and there is a whole lot more to it than Machu Picchu!

When most people think of Peru, the first thing that comes to mind is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu, and I will admit that was my whole purpose for going there.  Machu Picchu has always been on my bucket list, but beyond that, I had no desire to visit Peru.  But after spending 7 days in this beautiful country, I have to say I want more.

  • Peru is absolutely beautiful.  While there I visited Lima, Machu Picchu, Cusco and Ollantaytambo.  Cusco is one of the highest cities in the world; it sits 11,207 feet above sea level, compared to the U.S.A which is only 2,493 feet above sea level.  I absolutely loved Cusco but it is definitely the tourist spot.  The streets are narrow and winding on hills and aligned with small shops and eateries. The towns are nestled on the mountains or in between them.  There is green everywhere, and snow capped mountains in the sky.

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  • There is so much history everywhere.  You can actually do a Inca Trail hike for 26 miles, through Inca paving, ruins and tunnels.  Inca history is unearthed on the regular there.  Choquequirao is an Inca ruin that is larger in area than Machu Picchu but can only be accessed by foot or horseback and is therefore less visited and less popular.  Everywhere you look you can see the Incan influence even though the Spaniards did everything to wipe it all away, even to the extent of building on top of it.

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  • The people are beautiful.  They don’t look much different than American Indians, short in statue, long, thick, dark hair and light brown skin.  Everyone I encountered was nice and very helpful. They are hard working and make many things by hand.  In the touristy area, they dress like Peruvians in pictures but if you go further down into the city, they dress like the rest of us.

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  • I could understand the language.  I know most people don’t really consider Spanish a romantic language but listening to the people speak took me back to my many years in primary school studying Spanish.  They say if you don’t use it, you lose it and I haven’t used Spanish in some time but hearing it again and being able to speak it back and understand some of it felt good to me.  Granted once they started going, I became completely lost but I know if I spent some real time there, perhaps a few months, I’d be speaking Spanish fluently.
  • I have to say something about the food.  Actually, the food scene is great for non-vegans and foodies who like to try different things.  The Peruvians eat a lot of meat including guinea pigs and doves.  But my favorite food is potatoes and they have over 4,000 varieties that are native to the Andean highlands of Peru.  They also eat a lot of quinoa.  I must have had quinoa soup almost everyday.  I tried different types of fruit too including Chirimuya, Granadilla, and Pacay.  Eucalyptus is grown there as well as Maca and Coca.  Yes I chewed on coca leaves and drank it in my tea.  It helps with altitude sickness.

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  • I could never tire of shopping in Peru.  The colorful textiles bring me joy.  The prices are low and the goods are unique to the country.  I love the colorful ponchos and blankets.  Even though it weighed my bag down, I couldn’t leave the country without some ceramic pottery, so that every time I ate soup or drank tea, I would be reminded of the wonderful people of Peru and their ancestors, the Incas!

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So if you’re considering a trip to Peru, sample all 4,000 varieties of potatoes and the many native fruits and let me know which were your favorite.  Visit the salt mines.  Explore the many archaelogical sites.  Visit the museums and hike the Inca trail.  Climb and take pictures on the Rainbow Mountain.  Speak the language and try the Pisco Sour and Cusquena beer (roja is my favorite).   Have an authentic lunch cooked by a local in their home- an unforgettable experience.   Zip-line through the rain forest or ride the rapids in the Amazon river.  View the Nazca lines from the sky or simply shop in the San Pedro market and people watch.  Around every corner there is something new to try and experience.  You’ll never get bored.  There are so many reasons to visit Peru, beyond Machu Picchu!

 

*Hey readers, have you ever visited a country for one specific thing and wound up falling in love with all the rest? Share your story in the comments.*

 

What to Pack for Peru in July

Ideally, you want to be cute and warm and then cute and cool without having to pack extra clothes in your backpack and look for a bathroom to change into. 

It was two days before my big trip to Peru when my husband called me and asked, “Hey do you know that it is winter in Peru?”  My response was a little like this alpaca’s…

I guess I just assumed because it was South America and I was in North America that it would be summer there too.  WRONG!  I spent the last two days before my trip in Old Navy’s winter clearance section and in my basement in totes fishing out appropriate clothes.  Don’t make the same mistake I did.  Hopefully this post will help you to be better prepared for a trip to Peru in July.

According to Lonelyplanet.com, June-August is the high tourist season in Peru due to North American and European holidays.  Also, May-September is the winter season which is the driest and therefore the best time of year to travel.  The days are longer at this time which offers clear blue skies and great views of the mountains.  The day temperature ranges between the 50-70s Fahrenheit.  The nights and early mornings are cold but the days are pleasant.

Since you are more than likely going to Peru to tour the historical Inca ruins, and the wondrous landscape, you’ll probably head out during the early morning to avoid the crowds and return to your accommodation sometime in the afternoon or at night.  So the way you dress will be very important.  Here is the key word, ‘LAYERS’.

When you head out in the morning, it will be cold, so you might think that a winter coat will be just what you need.  But, don’t be fooled my friend because by late morning it will begin to warm up and you will be hot.  Instead wear cute leggings under some jeans, a tank top under a t-shirt, a long-sleeve shirt over the t-shirt and a hoodie, or instead of the long-sleeve shirt and hoodie simply wear a heavy fleece jacket that you will be able to remove and tie around your waste.  Ideally, you want to be cute and warm and then cute and cool without having to pack extra clothes in your backpack and look for a bathroom to change into.   In the morning I was layered up but by early afternoon, I had removed 1-2 layers and stuck the pants into my backpack and tied the jacket or hoodie around my waste.

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Here I am early morning in all my layers, at Machu Picchu.  From top to bottom: Ugg Adirondack II boots, fitness tights under jeans, Old Navy work out tank, under Old Navy fleece work out hoodie, under heavy fleece jacket from Boscovs, hat.  I look so much heavier with all these layers on.
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Here I am later in the morning, heavy jacket removed. Sunglasses are necessary
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Here I am with my son, Heavy jacket and Old Navy Fleece jacket removed.  It’s getting hot and I’m skinny again.
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Here I am on another day, at another archaeological site, late morning, sneakers by Nike, fashion tights from Old Navy, cinch top sweater by Old Navy tied around my waist, button down denim over a black thermal, sunglasses, and a head scarf.
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Rain in the forecast- Hat, rain poncho, sweater, jeans. Always prepared

Here’s what I packed for my 7 day trip:

3 pairs of jeans (worn twice)

4 pair of tights (two fashionable- 1 worn alone, the other worn twice under jeans, two fitness- both worn twice under jeans)

4 tank tops

1 thermal (worn twice)

4 t-shirts

4 long sleeve tops and a button down

3 hoodies (2 fleece)

1 heavy fleece work jacket

1 pair of sneakers

1 pair of Ugg boots for hiking

2 pair of warm pajamas

1 rain poncho (rain does happen even in the dry season)

an umbrella

1 backpack

2 scarves for my head that could also be used around my neck

a hat but you can buy one there, there are many available for purchase

sunglasses

Garmin watch to count all my steps

 

Remember the key word, ‘Layers’ and you should be fine.  Have fun and send me pictures.

The Boys and I on our Ten Year Anniversary in Florida

This summer I really wanted to spend a lot of time with my boys.  Zamir and I had a lovely time on our cruise and were able to spend some one on one quality time.  We really get along well.  I also planned a one on one trip to Peru with Zarien and myself so that we could spend some time bonding, check back for that three part post later.  But together, my boys and I headed to Florida.  My girl Jennifer rented a large pool house for the month of July and invited us down.

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So on Zarien’s birthday, July 2, that’s exactly what we did.  We spent 10 days, relaxing and having fun.  It was 10 years ago when we first experienced Florida together.  It was Zarien’s 5th birthday then, and just the boys and I flew down to Orlando to experience Disney.  We visited four of the Disney parks and witnessed the best fire works show ever.  Ten years later we were back.  One thing about Florida in July, it rains almost every day but we didn’t let that stop our fun.  We swam in the pool on lazy days and went out on others.  We had a barbecue and celebrated Zarien’s birthday with Ice Cream Cake.

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Chillen on a pile of shit in the water
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Fun times in the backyard pool

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Birthday boy blowing out his 15 candles
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One word: GREEDY

We enjoyed played miniature golf and went ziplining.

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I like hanging in trees
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Getting ready to tackle the big zipline

We went to Busch Gardens where I rode a few roller coasters and was the designated bag holder for the other rides.   As I’ve aged, I’ve become fearful that I’d have a panic attack so I tend to not get on too many rides.  I like Busch Gardens though because it’s kind of a mix of an amusement park and zoo.  We saw alligators, elephants, zebras, etc… all around the park.

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Friends and family
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He talked me into going on it with him
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Have fun ya’ll. I’ll be right here, holding your bags.
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Yeah, you can kiss my @#$%, that’s not very nice
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Just chillin
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Pretty in Pink

I always wanted to go to SeaWorld and see a dolphin show, so we did that too.  And forget about that age thing that I mentioned earlier, I rode all the rollercoasters, all 3 of them. (I can hear you laughing. Don’t laugh too hard) The first one was the Manta and even though I’m glad I tried it, you can only fool me once.  That ride is the devil.  I swear I blacked out at some point on that roller coaster.  So when everyone else went back for a second and third dose of the Manta, I became the designated bag holder again.  I rode the Mako roller coaster three or four times with everybody and even sat in the first row one time.  That rollercoaster was fun and has a mean drop.  The last of the coasters was the Kraken; that one was pretty fun as well.

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Finally made it to SeaWorld
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Just couldn’t get this picture right, so there you have it
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The devil roller coaster

On our last day, the boys and I drove an hour away to Cape Canaveral.  We visited the Kennedy Space Center.  It was much bigger than I had anticipated with a lot things to do and see.  We arrived mid day and I wish we had arrived earlier to fully experience it.  But while we were there, we toured where the launch pads are, learned about America’s plans to visit Mars, the evolution of space shuttles and space visits, the heroics of astronauts who lost their lives, and saw many exhibits.  It’s both an educational and fun place to visit.  A must see while in Florida! See you again in 10 Florida!

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She got the whole world in her hand
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A must see in Florida
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Feeling like I’m in one of my favorite movies: Armageddon
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Space ship launch pad
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A pod
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Looking Distinguished

 

What Summer Breaks Are Like for an Expat Teacher- Part 1

**Written June 25, 2018**

It’s been exactly 30 days since my summer vacation began and I’ve been living out of  suitcases ever since.  It started with my first solo trip, to Copenhagen, Denmark.  Copenhagen is just about a halfway point between Qatar and the U.S.A., so it was a good stop over point for this girl who didn’t want to fly 12.5 hours straight alone.  Click here to read all the details about my trip.  I spent 4 days 5 days there.  It was supposed to be 4 days but due to flying a budget airline and a day long delay for a flight out of Copenhagen, it turned into 5 days.

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I’m staying with my sista/girlfriend Michele while I’m in Philly, which is about a total of 3 weeks in all, a few days here, a few days there, a week here, a week there, in between my travels and trips.

A few days after I arrived, my oldest son graduated from high school.  This was the whole point of leaving a week before the official end of the school year.   I can’t believe I am a mother of a high school graduate.   He will be going on to attend my Alma Mater, Temple University in Philly to start our legacy.  Words can’t express how proud of him I am and blessed I feel that we’ve made it this far.

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Proud Mother

 

Three days after my son’s graduation, I took him on a 8 day cruise along with my niece whom graduated college.  We cruised on the Carnival Horizon cruise line.  It’s a new ship to sail from New York.  We sailed to Turks and Caicos were supposed to sail to Turks and Caicos but due to an unfortunate event missed that port of call.  However, we did stop in San Juan and the Dominican Republic. D.R. which is where I zip lined for the first time and absolutely loved it.  D.R. is also where we had the most fun.  We spent several days at sea where I gained many pounds from eating and sitting around being lazy and it was glorious.  LOL!  Read about our fun on the water and to find out how I got my scary ass on that zip line and more by clicking here.

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Three days after we returned from the cruise, my sistas and I flew to New Orleans.  I spent 4 days further enjoying food but also doing a lot of walking.  New Orleans is an interesting city, full of history and culture.  Here is where you can experience New Orleans through my eyes..

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I will spend the next 7 days relaxing, visiting, shopping and enjoying Philly before the boys and I go on to our next vacation spots.  I’m enjoying my summer so far but missing my husband and the comforts of home.

See when you teach overseas and summer comes, there is so much to do.  You try to cram so much into two months, visiting friends and family, doing the things you don’t get to do in your new home, traveling, relaxing and unwinding.  You also spend a lot of time being uncomfortable because your new country becomes home and some things and people change while others remain the same in your native country and you start to wonder where exactly you fit.  The more time I spend overseas, the less I feel connected to my home country.  I’m starting to understand how some people have difficulty with repatriation.  Check back later for Part 2 of, What Summer Breaks are Like for an Expat Teacher.

What has your experience been when you travel to your native city after teaching overseas for a few years?  I’d love to hear from you.  Leave a comment.

 

New Orleans- Seafood and More

I am a member of several travel groups and New Orleans comes up in discussion quite often, so when I saw a pretty good deal on TravelPirates for a trip there, I booked it.  My sister and girlfriend and I try to take at least one trip together each summer and none of us had ever been to NOLA.  I did some research of things to see and do there and places to eat and created a list so that we would have choices.  This trip would be different than our usual trips to an island and beach so I wanted to ensure we wouldn’t get bored.

Logistics: We flew on Spirit Airlines.  I’ve heard horror stories about flying Spirit Airlines so I was really nervous but surprisingly we had really good flights.  It’s a cheap airline so you have to pay for everything including water and checked luggage.  Good thing I belong to #teamcarryon, so I’ve gotten better at light packing.  {Time for Kennesha’s 5 cent advice (K5¢): Airline workers don’t really bother you when it comes to carryon luggage when you use duffel bags that are easy to bend and stuff, or book bags when it comes to personal items.}  BTW My girlfriend won 5,000 miles just for having the designated lucky seat on the Spirit Airlines plane.  We stayed at the AC Hotel by Marriott New Orleans Bourbon, which was only 2 blocks from the main Bourbon street area which put us within access of everything.  It was a nice hotel and I would stay again.  Anywhere we didn’t walk, we used uber to get to.

 

Food: In true Ericka, Michele and Kennesha style, the first thing we did when we got to the hotel was find something to eat.  We followed the recommendation of the front desk and ate brunch at Domenica.  I had oatmeal with berries, maple syrup and almonds and a crab cake atop spring vegetables.  The vegetables were cold and I almost sent them back until I tasted them and figured that they were meant to be served cold because they were so delicious.  The crab cake was okay and the oatmeal was great.

 

We enjoyed dinner at Dragos so much that we ate there twice.  I tried the two salads topped with crab and lobster, the lobster one was my favorite.  It’s a simple salad but with the lobster and dressing it was delicious.  I also recommend the Herradura Shrimp- sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts and onions, deglazed with tequila and seasoned to perfection served with a grilled portabella mushroom.

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At the recommendation of some locals, we checked out Neyows.  They said their charbroiled oysters were the best and when in NOLA, you have to eat oysters.  I even got the girls to try oysters for their first time.  The charbroiled oysters did not disappoint.  The appetizers from this place were the highlight.  We did not enjoy the main dishes at all.

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While in New Orleans, you know I had to try out the vegan food scene and again I dragged these girls along to try something new.  We ate at Sweet Soulfood.   It’s a soul food buffet and they enjoyed the food here too.  Sorry no pictures of the food.

Finally, do not leave New Orleans without making a trip to Cafe Du Monde.  Everything I read before going to NOLA suggested this place.  So of course we went.  You can’t get a whole breakfast there but what you can get is a small piece of heaven.  The beignets are amazing as well as the cafe au lait.  The cafe au lait is coffee with chicory but I had mine black with sugar.  The beignets are like small funnel cake pillows topped with powdered sugar.  You can’t share them; you must get your own!

 

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As far as drinks go, I tried an Abita beer and I didn’t care for it but do have a ‘hand grenade’ and pace yourself.

 

And yes, I know I speak of being vegan in many of my posts but I was showing off on this trip.  I ate lots of seafood, #YOLO!

Things to do and see: Of course no trip to New Orleans is complete without a trip down Bourbon street.  Honestly, it smelled really bad like old bar and vomit.  But we still enjoyed seeing the young people beating rhythms on the buckets, popping in and out of the numerous bars and shops and people watching.

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Definitely take a trip down Decatur street and to the French Market, where you can shop for New Orleans spices, hot sauce, clothes and more and check out some sights.

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Tasty pralines being made fresh

 

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If you are a strong person, I recommend a plantation tour.  I used Grayline New Orleans Tour  and did a double plantation tour.  I went to the Whitney Plantation and the Oak Alley.  I went to Whitney for the history and to pay homage to my ancestors and to Oak Alley for the beauty.  I enjoyed them both.

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We got a name tag of a young child that lived here
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statues of the young children in the church
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ringing the bell for a child that was enslaved here

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I’m sitting outside a slave home
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This is the Whitney home
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Oak Alley
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Oak Alley together
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Breaker of chains

I enjoyed New Orleans but 4 days definitely was not enough time to see all that it had to offer.  We drove past the graveyards many times and learned that burial plots are shallow in New Orleans because the water table is very high.  If you dig a few feet down, the grave will become soggy, filling with water and the casket will literally float.  I think I would have liked to tour one of these graveyards.  We didn’t get to party or go to a piano bar because everyone wasn’t feeling that.  We didn’t make it to Faubourg Marigny or to take a ride on the St. Charles street car.  We didn’t stroll Royal street, or explore the sculpture garden in Audonbon Park.  I really wanted to tour the Hurricane Katrina area as well.  Oh well, I guess I have several reason to return.

The New Orleans food scene is amazing, that’s all I have to say.  I would go back just to eat and that sounds really PHAT!!!